Protecting Ourselves

“We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened and more alienated”. Pema Chodren.

 

It’s an interesting thought…. 🤔 There is that idea that coping mechanisms do shield us from acute psychological distress. Coping mechanisms are perhaps supposed to be temporary or flexible, as our minds and emotions adjust to tolerating emotional pain. An example of this would be denial – it may protect for a while from intense psychological pain from a result of terrible news, and we might ‘forget’ it’s happened and then remember again or deny it’s happened. However to stay in denial is perhaps an unhealthy place and we need to begin to accept the emotional pain in ‘manageable pieces’,  or  denial may cut us off from reality or create more problems and pain.

 

So are coping mechanisms right or wrong? What if we considered defences as neurobiological survival resources….?

 

Our learned ways of coping can start in childhood, we learn how to protect ourselves from the world around us, for example anxiety and hypervigilance might allow a child to guard themselves so they can move themselves from perceived danger – maybe a parent or bullies or fear of failure…

 

Depression and being low or sad may have protected against raised hopes, prevented excitement or jubilation before it would be cruelly taken away and squelched. Depression might have saved us from the heartbreak of disappointment……

 

Anger (often defending fear) may have been a good way of pushing people away before they hurt us, preventing them getting close enough to hurt us all over again..

 

Numbness or feeling empty might have been better than being repeatedly hurt and used, ‘if you don’t care it doesn’t matter’…..

 

As adults we may react to circumstances and not know why we react the way we do…we may feel anxious or hyper vigilant, depressed, numb or angry…perhaps these learned defences kept us safe at one time, but what if they aren’t needed now and they might even be isolating us or preventing us from truly living…. What if we feel stuck…

 

Developing self awareness of why we do what we do and do we need to continue can help. Sometimes we may need support to do this, perhaps through counselling… Perhaps what we need is a new perspective…

 

Chording, P (2008). The pocket Pema Chodron. Boston: Shambhala Publications